Texas expats have become a fixture in the city — it’s not all that rare to spot an orange Longhorns T-shirt or the occasional Stetson hat — transmitting a culinary culture that highlights luscious beef barbecue, wood-charred fajitas, bright-yellow chile con queso, chicken-fried steaks, breakfast tacos, chili con carne, and soupy pinto beans, as well as such sweet specialties as kolaches, sopaipillas, and pecan pralines. Collectively, these reflect the state’s Native American, Spanish, African, Mexican, and European heritage. Over the last two decades, many of the Lone Star State’s distinctive dishes have become bona fide fads here.
Five years ago when this guide was first published, the city was exploding with new Tex-Mex restaurants, with Javelina leading the parade. But many have now closed, including Avenida and El Original. Texas-style barbecue restaurants, however, are still going strong, though a fire closed Morgan’s Barbecue earlier this year. But while setbacks have been suffered, individual Texas specialties are surging, so that these days one is never far from a breakfast taco, kolache, or Frito pie. Here’s a catalog of Texas eats, and where to find them.
This is an extensively revised version of a guide first published in 2016.
The smallish, fruit-filled sweet rolls known as kolaches have been a Central Texas fixture ever since Czech immigrants arrived in the mid-19th century. Well, those kolaches finally made their way to Bed-Stuy in 2012 thanks to Austinite Autumn Stanford, who filled hers with seasonal fruits like spiced apples and apricots, and savory ingredients like Texas beef sausage and scrambled eggs. On sunny days, the rear backyard becomes a sort of Texas embassy. Breakfast and lunch only. Newer location in Greenwich Village without backyard. 520 DeKalb Ave, Brooklyn, 718-398-1111; 185 Bleecker Street, between MacDougal and Sullivan streets, 646-559-2989
Kings Kolache was opened earlier this year in Bushwick on the Ridgewood border by Sarah Morgan Ashey and her husband Paul, offering a small daily selection of kolaches every bit as good as Brooklyn Kolache’s. Along with a handful of other Texas specialties like breakfast tacos and Frito pie, find vegan chili and coffee beverages; outdoor tables are covered with street maps of Austin. 321 Starr Street, at Cypress Avenue, Bushwick, 845-614-3226
Breakfast tacos have become more common in the last five years, but the biggest development during that span has been the opening of Yellow Rose late last year in the East Village. Helmed by Superiority Burger vet Dave Rizo along with spouse and co-owner Krystiana Rizo, both from San Antonio, Yellow Rose presses its own distinguished flour tortillas. It uses them in typical Central Texas tacos, some in a breakfast vein, including a migas taco and another featuring the San Antonio classic of refried pintos and grated cheddar. The carne guisada taco was also on the money. Other specialties included vegan queso and a decent — by Texas standards — chili con carne. 102 Third Avenue, between 12th and 13th streets, East Village, 212-529-8880
King David Tacos
University of Texas grad and advertising maven Liz Solomon Dwyer started King David with a pushcart in 2017, and it has grown to a mini-empire, concentrating on breakfast tacos wrapped in foil. Now a major concrete outpost has appeared in Prospect Heights, with an expanded menu of tacos on good flour tortillas, often made to order. Both red and green salsas are exemplary, and the tacos are no longer just for breakfast — as seen in the cowboy taco, rolling up steak, potato, egg, and cheese. 611 Bergen Street, between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, Prospect Heights, 929-367-8226
Twenty-one years ago, this former Italian bakery was taken over by Pueblans Olivia Marin and her brother, and it now serves wonderful southern Mexican antojitos, as well as Mexican-American fare: nachos, hard-shell tacos, chimichangas, and burritos — both breakfast and otherwise. It was one of the first places in town to offer breakfast tacos a decade ago — served on white-corn tortillas instead of flour, but still delicious, especially the one featuring scrambled eggs, potatoes, jack cheese, and black beans. 69 First Avenue, between Fourth and Fifth streets, East Village, 212-254-1757
Catfish is a passion in the black-dirt farmland of East Texas and in the Cajun country that extends along the Gulf Coast from Port Arthur to Houston and beyond. This Cajun restaurant called Catfish serves a great po’ boy with the fish blackened or deep-fried, along with lettuce, tomato, and very thick mayo. You can add sides like cornbread, collards, and baked mac and cheese. The fried shrimp and french fries served in a basket is another Texas Gulf Coast phenomenon. 1433 Bedford Avenue, between Park and Prospect places, Bed-Stuy, 347-305-3233
Catfish in its most elemental form, lightly dusted with cornmeal and black pepper, and fried to a golden color, is to be found in Harlem at many seafood restaurants, including the venerable Sylvia’s, founded by Sylvia Woods in 1962, where the fried chicken has become legendary. Both dishes demonstrate the commonality of Deep South and East Texas cooking. 328 Malcom X Boulevard, between 126th and 127th streets, Harlem, 212-996-0660
Waco, Texas, native Sherry Delamarter opened this staple as Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1989, emulating an actual museum in Hereford, Texas, decorating her place with cowgirl photos and ranch memorabilia. The menu is a combo of Tex-Mex and the chuckwagon cooking of the state, which has Mexican, African-American, German, and Native American roots. The chicken-fried steak is part of that tradition, and Cowgirl does a good one: thickly breaded, with a steak that might take a jackhammer to cut apart, as it should be. The barbecued ribs are good, so is the Frito pie, and the black-eyed pea dip, reflecting the African-American underpinnings of Texas cuisine, is not to be missed. 519 Hudson Street, at 10th Street, West Village, 212-633-1133
Opinions vary as to whether the Frito pie was invented in New Mexico or Texas, but both places cherish this snack, made by dumping chili con carne — a staple of regional Spanish cooking, invented before there even was a Texas — into a torn bag of Fritos, further heaped with grated cheese and sometimes with sour cream. This country-western bar with lots of Texas iconography cooks up a great Frito pie, and also offers Shiner and Lone Star on tap, bacon-wrapped Chihuahua dogs, and queso with chips. 736 10th Avenue, between 50th and 51st streets, Hell’s Kitchen, (212) 265-0010
Also available at Cowgirl Hall of Fame (above) and Mable’s Smokehouse (in the barbecue section, below).
Hill Country Barbecue Market
New York City had been trying to get Texas barbecue right, but it wasn’t till Robert Pearson opened Stick To Your Ribs (long gone) in the ’90s in Long Island City that someone finally did it. Emulating the great barbecues of Lockhart, Texas, Hill Country Barbecue Market serves its barbecue by the pound on brown butcher paper, along with white bread or soda crackers. The selection of meats also parallels that of Lockhart’s Kreuz Market, with brisket and clod (shoulder) the pre-eminent cuts, but also serving pork and beef ribs, turkey, chicken, and beef hot links. 30 West 26th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, Flatiron, 212-255-4544
Former bodyguard and lifelong Brooklynite Billy Durney studied smoking at the knee of Wayne Mueller, pitmaster of the sainted Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, a broken-down railroad town northeast of Austin. The result is one of the city’s best Texas barbecues, located in Red Hook. The place is unpretentious but perpetually crowded, and the queso-style mac and cheese, beef brisket, smoked turkey, chicken, and, especially, the monster beef ribs, are definitely worth ordering. 454 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, 347-294-4644
Pitmaster and sometime Houstonite Hugh Mangum has found a way to clone his barbecue spots with little diminution in quality, and his brisket remains supremely smoky and fatty whether you get it at the original East Village location, or in the West Village, Brookfield Place, Crown Heights, or even Clifton, New Jersey. Some swear by the quirky sides, and any of the sandwiches are spectacular deals. Fine pork ribs, too. Various locations
Mable’s Smokehouse & Banquet Hall
This restaurant founded 10 years ago by Jeff Lutonsky and Meghan Love was actually inspired by Oklahoma barbecues, but the overlap with Texas barbecue is roughly 90 percent. In fact, when I went to high school in Dallas, the barbecue was more like this than what we now have. Sausages were of more importance, and there was a little more affection for barbecue sauce, but with a similar roster of ribs, brisket, and chicken, and a few Mexican-American flourishes. The space, which rather grandly calls itself a banquet hall, perfectly captures the North Texas vibe. 44 Berry Street, between North 11th and North 12th streets, Williamsburg, 718-218-6655
While this category featuring the Mexican-American cooking of Texas has been depleted lately, that’s partly because dishes associated with the cuisine — we’re talking nachos, flour-tortilla tacos, fajitas, guacamole, and chili con carne, among others — have become so ubiquitous, especially at bars in the city, that you don’t really need to go to a targeted restaurant to get them. Nevertheless, Javelina, via owner Matt Post, started strong and has only gotten better, offering specialties like the famous Bob Armstrong dip (a combo of queso, pico de gallo, and guacamole) invented at Matt’s El Rancho in Austin, and the cheesy “enchiladas de Tejas,” which are something of a signature of the cuisine. 119 East 18th Street, between Park Avenue South and Irving Place, 212-539-0202; with another branch on the Upper East Side, 1395 Second Avenue, between 72nd and 73rd streets, Upper East Side, (917) 261-7011
This old-timer in Greenwich Village, long favored by NYU students for its cut-rate pitchers of frozen margaritas, wouldn’t call itself Tex-Mex. But it dates from the era when an approximation of that cuisine was just about the only Mexican food in town, which means sizzling skirt steak fajitas nearly as good as the ones you get in Houston, cheese enchiladas like they do them in San Antonio, hard-shell tacos filled with spicy ground beef, and, especially, nachos with composed toppings on individual chips — similar to when they were first invented by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya. Sit on the rooftop terrace and enjoy a meal that feels like a street fiesta, complete with pinatas and sombreros. 86 University Place, between 11th and 12th streets, Greenwich Village, 212-255-9378
El Rio Grande
The menu at this Murray Hill establishment is a mash-up of Mexican food as served in Mexico and in Texas, including, among Tex-Mex dishes, fajitas, chile con queso, nachos, cheese enchiladas with chili con carne sauce, and quesadillas. 160 East 38th Street, at Third Avenue, Murray Hill, 212-867-0922
Among a host of origin stories, the corn dog was said to have been invented by the Fletcher brothers Neil and Carl at the Texas state fair in 1942. Called “corny dogs,” these franks dipped in a sweet cornmeal batter and deep-fried became a fixture of the fair. Two Hands, a Korean corn dog franchise founded in Virginia with early locations in Houston and Grand Prairie, Texas, also fries up a corn dog in the spittin’ image of its state fair counterpart. Called “American classic dog,” and described as “state fair style,” it represents another little taste of Texas in New York City. 147 Avenue A, between 9th and 10th streets, East Village, 646-912-9684